WESTERN Trust bosses came under fire from Fermanagh and Omagh councillors last night, following yesterday evening’s announcement that SWAH emergency surgery is to be “temporarily” suspended, in light of dwindling staff numbers.
Emotions were running high in the chamber at the Townhall last night, as time after time councillors begged for reassurance from Trust chief executive Neil Guckian that no local lives would be put at risk by the move.
Each time the question was asked, Mr Guckian referred the question to medical professionals on the link, including SWAH assistant director Ronan O’Hare, who quoted statistics and reports stating the move to remove the service would not increase the risk of death.
In fact, Mr Guckian, Trust medical director Dr Brendan Lavery and consultant surgeon Mark Taylor – who chaired the Department of Health’s review into general surgery which set out new standards and conditions which will likely see SWAH reconfigured as an elective care centre – claimed the move to remove general surgery from the hospital would result in “better outcomes” for local patients.
None of those representing the Trust were present in the chamber for the meeting and addressed the councillors via video link, citing last night’s fog and poor driving conditions as the reason for their absence. Two of those tuning in via video link from home were Dr Lavery, and Trust director of acute services, Geraldine McKay, who both had been at the SWAH an hour before the meeting began to deliver the Trust’s announcement on the removal of the service.
Under fierce questioning from councillors about mismanagement, the Trust officials repeated time and again they had exhausted every avenue regarding the recruitment of surgeons for the SWAH, but had been unsuccessful.
A representative from the Department of Health was also on the link to outline plans to make the SWAH an overnight elective care centre – the same as Daisy Hill – which would bring in patients from across the North to bring down waiting lists.
It was stated several times by the Trust, and the Department representatives, that surgeons did not want to work at the SWAH on non-scheduled surgery, however it was also stated surgeons were happy to work at the hospital for elective operations.
In the chamber, local solicitor Reggie Ferguson made a presentation on behalf of the Save Our Acute Services campaign, while Prof Mahendra Varma gave a presentation on his concerns over the removal of the service.
Almost every councillor present got the opportunity to grill the Trust and Department officials on the matter, with emotions running high at times.
The legality of the removal of the service was questioned, while councillors were fiercely critical of the Trust’s communication on the situation so far.
In a particularly emotional address, Cllr Donal O’Cofaigh stressed to the health chiefs the people of Fermanagh would not stand for the removal of the service.
A passionate protest, which was organised at short notice but was well attended all the same, was held prior to the meeting. Next Saturday afternoon, November 26th, a ‘ring of steel’ event is being held at the SWAH, while a major rally is then planned for the following Friday evening, December 2nd at the Broadmeadow in Enniskillen. The entire community is being urged to attend.
Watch the full meeting from last night here:
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